IA Chapter by HighBrowCulture
Charleston. His bludgeon-shaped head looks like a runny Pon and Zi comic strip through my front window. He catches his umbrella in the glass door. It takes him exactly eight and a half seconds to extricate that wiry flamingo mass out of the metal frame.
“Sully, Sully! It’s rainin’ wet pom-poms out there!”
Picture this. Charleston. Six foot four. An argyle sweater different shades of breast cancer pink. Boat shoes. Aeropostale ankle socks. Soaked despite his hoop skirt umbrella. Shaking his hoop skirt umbrella like a bull at a rodeo. Flooding a woman reading Anne Rice in a booth by the door. Squealing apologies in a pinched voice.
“So sorry, ma’am, so sorry.”
Charleston scrambles for napkins and dabs her face to pieces.
“It’s… it’s fine... it’s… ok, ok.”
She chokes on napkin bits and pulls back. Her elbow catches her caramel latte and it spills everywhere.
“Oh god, oh god! So sorry, ma’am, I’m so sorry!”
Why Sully chose this memory is beyond me. Maybe it’s because we like to laugh the loudest when we’re afraid. Maybe Freud knows. Maybe it has something to do with that third grade teacher telling children to overcome fear by picturing it in the most ridiculous attire.
Confetti pink argyle sweater.
Hoop skirt umbrella.
Or maybe it’s because the only people Sully can tolerate in memory and in reality are beautiful losers. Pariahs. Albino rabbits. Outliers considered selfish by society because they have nothing society can exploit. They’re the kind of hacks you see reading Manga on cedar park benches while eating colored Goldfish. And you hate them because there’s just something about them… Shallow women hate them because they don’t lust with their eyes. Mailmen hate them because they still use the post. Children hate them because television says so.
In flower talk- if I was a watering hole, they would be the ginger antelopes excommunicated from the herd. They enjoy me because I’m like the pagan temple of the town. The café denies no entry and offers only clean exits. Besides, all the savannah animals- prowlers, scavengers, and collective herbivores alike- are all too busy lapping up water to bother reminding the Untouchables where their rung in the ladder lies.
“Charlie.” Sully already has the mop ready. “Sit down. I’ll take care of it.”
“Don’t worry Sully. I’ve got it.”
Sully is a natural commander. Charleston would have made a worse Roman emperor than Caligula even if he suffered from Tourettes and dyslexia. He readily complies.
“The usual?” Sully asks.
“Vanilla cinnamon hot chocolate.”
He orders everything with cinnamon.
“Yes, the usual.”
“Just say so next time Charlie.”
born into a southern bell Culpepper family during the Carter
administration. His father used to pin
‘Impeach Carter’ buttons on
Truth be told,
‘F*****s. This country’s gonna wear a dress and talk French come twenty years. Replacin’ tobacco with strawberries… Who’da done it…’
A straight-jacket statistician would say Charleston Sr.’s sudden obsession with his Confederate roots that same year was simply a bi-product of cheap correlation. Being a café, I prefer to work with cause-immature interpretation-pathetic response.
‘Our blood runs
thick with General Hill.’
To Charleston Sr.’s dismay, however, the McPeaks loved the historical drills and would pull chairs out onto their wrap-around porch and clap and sip on Mrs. Charleston Sr.’s tea. She absolutely adored the Yankee neighbors.
‘Mrs. McPeak is the loveliest creature.’ She’d note in a wind-chime voice. ‘And boy, how she can crochet like the devil’s daughter!’
Despite his whiny nature, Charleston Sr. was a caring man. The winter before little Charleston hit puberty, Charleston Sr. went to help a family on the other side of town whose heating unit had blown to smithereens like a gerbil in a microwave. When a projected snow flurry turned into a blizzard and the roads into butter, he slid off a bridge on the way home and drowned in the same creek the Army of Northern Virginia retreated across after losing in Petersburg.
A living metaphor.
‘Rebel Hill, Charlie, rebel Hill. Ya got his blood boy.’ His grandfather would snap in smothered vowels and consonants roped in a wad of chew the size of an ostrich egg.
Hatred being the
only sincere human emotion, the old man sincerely hated all things Yankee. When he caught
‘Boy, what ya doin’!?’
‘No (squish-squish) ya ain’t!’ Spfff! Old grandpa spat for emphasis in Charlie’s freshest hole. ‘Ya know what them Yanks used ta do with Jellybeans?’
‘Put poison in ‘um and send it to our poor boys, choke ‘um to death ‘til they spit up rainbows.’
Grandpa Beau remediated the situation by
dousing the lawn in gasoline, which the neighbor McPeaks applauded as a realistic
a bid to avoid Beau at all costs, Charleston would tag along with his mother
and Mrs. McPeak during their weekend crochet sessions. To rebel General Hill’s dismay,
‘Charlie, you’re an absolute natural.’ Mrs. McPeak would say.
Mrs. McPeak took a liking to Charlie for a bushel of reasons. She had no children of her own and informally adopted him while Ms. Charleston Sr. worked. Mr. McPeak had kids but that was because he spent half of his business trip sleeping with other women and establishing families like he did his franchises.
Mrs. McPeak knew about his promiscuous habits but she never complained. How could she? She grew up in the little town of Lawrenceville, the daughter of a librarian and an alcoholic inventor who swore the idea for the ziplock bag was his and someone stole it. Until Mr. McPeak rescued her like Rapunzel with his upstate New York charm and satin cummerbunds and Cornell hybrid lifestyle. So what he slept around now and then? She manned the castle. Those s***s were nothing more than subjects.
McPeak also saw that Charlie could live her dreams of becoming a fashion
designer for her. So, for his eighteenth
birthday Mrs. McPeak bought
Grandpa Beau died of emphysema a few days later. Some say his last words had something to do with how he should have let little Charleston grow those damn Jellybean stalks.
I say his last words were Reznikoff’s ‘Ghetto Funeral.’
After he graduated,
In a last ditch effort to break through, Charleston attempted volunteer amateur furs modeling. Imagine. Charleston. Six foot four. A chew spittoon head. In cougar skins. Until-
‘Killers! All of you! Animal Stalinists! Fuzzy Gaddafis!’
Gallons of vermillion paint dumped on par with each and every bullet point exclamation mark all over Charleston. At six foot four. That’s a dozen dead cougars turned into Sour Patch Kid bath mats.
The suspect. Raven Moore. A petite Jane Fonda-esque white girl who wanted to be a black man. She was also a sex addict who wore Kuchi bracelets to ward off herpes. She went off the deep end because people told her she looked too innocent as a child. Besides being a sex addict, she was addicted to proving people were wrong.
To avoid hiring Charleston out of sympathy, the hosts accused him of antagonizing the girl. Croissant in the heart and gullible as a postmodern teeny bop about the reality of a romance defined by Twilight and Nicholas Sparks, Charleston assumed they were correct and decided to visit Raven in jail.
‘I didn’t mean to ant-a-gonize you.’ Charleston over-pronounced.
‘Antagonize me? Tell me something. Just tell me something.’ She gripped the cell bars like a disaffected wife clinging onto dirty laundry. ‘What if a cougar strutted around in your skin?’
‘Yeah, nothing. Why? Because you’d be dead. Comatose.’
‘A butterfly in the bottom of a bottle of brandy.’
‘A peacock in an Aztec headdress.’
‘You’d like that, wouldn’t you? Strutting around in emeralds with duck head shoes and crocodile pants and a giraffe button-up with penguin mittens and-’
‘No, I like animals.’ He smiled like soft ice cream. He reminded her of Lenny. Just before he snapped the bunny’s neck. Oddly, but appropriately, she liked that about him.
‘Hey.’ A guard croaked down the hall. ‘You gonna sign her out of here or what? Tired of her hysterics. That loony tried taking my boots because she said they were made out of cow hide.’
‘They are made out of cow hide!’ Raven roared. ‘Tell me something! Just-’
‘I’m signing her out now.’
‘It’s faux.” Rattle-snaked the guard as he opened the cell.
Charleston didn’t realize at the time that in a bid to play Good Samaritan and diffuse all ends of the exhaust pipe, he had signed himself up for a Woody Allen meets Poprocks romance.
‘You got all the paint off you at least?’ Raven giggled. She was thinking about what a beast he would be in bed.
‘Well, I got a little bit in my eye.’ He was thinking about how it would affect his motor skills. What if he couldn’t thread a needle ever again?
‘You can see though, right?’ Maybe not so much a beast. More like a blue balloon. All he needed was a butane lighter and-
‘Well, I couldn’t earlier.’ Wait. A blind fashion designer… He’d be on the cover of Glamour!
‘That’s ok. If you lose an eye, you lost it through the right person.’ BOOM!
Boom was what would have happened had Raven’s mad plot run its course.
You see Raven was an ocularist when she wasn’t chaining herself to spruces in Central Park and barking at passer-bys to protest the domestication of animals. An ocularist paints fake eyes. While fake eyes don’t help a person in any real way, Raven felt like they were diplomas for stupid people. Even if they did nothing for the person physically, at least they boosted their self-esteem. Her occupation was part one of her plan.
Part two was her pyromaniac obsessions coupled with her expertise on explosives. She could build a bomb using Cocoa Pebbles as an unstable oxidizing sulfur agent and pigeon poop as the saltpeter resulting in a boom enough to pop the occipital bone off a skull. Which was all the boom she needed for her plan.
Poor Charleston inspired part three.
Raven saw it all the first night they slept together. She could uproot the entire foundation of the fashion industry if only-
‘So what are you going to say?’
‘I know what I’m going to say.’
‘Say it with fangs. With heroin needles for teeth. Maybe not with heroin needles, scratch that. Think Mistletoes. Icicles hanging off Mistletoes.’
Although her Greenwich advice did nothing but bog him down in odd imageries, Charleston somehow managed to land her the contract for supplying the mannequins with fake eyes to the largest annual fashion display in the Javits the following month.
The seventy-four year old producer’s bizarre infatuation with Charleston was the explanation for his success. She consciously declared it was his aloofness that she mistook for pocketed, devilish charm. His resemblance to Marlon Brando, the hunk who made her dreams dewy so many years ago, was most likely the real reason, however hideous that resemblance was.
With the contract in order, Raven’s plan seemed infallible. Until the morning of-
‘You’re all killers! Jealous of chameleons! You hate your Plato potato skin so you cover it with theirs!’
Charleston had no idea why they were arresting her until he was interrogated for being an alleged accomplice.
‘You know what this is?’
The FBI agent reminded him of a tasteless Dick Tracy. At least the yellow trench coat paid compliments to his hazelnut eyes. This guy, though, with his pepper black jacket and-
‘Do you know what this is!?’ The agent echoed as he cracked open one of the fake eyes on the table. Charleston leaned in to take a closer look before the smell catapulted him backwards.
‘No.’ He muttered in a moo tone with his nose pinched.
‘Fructose. Columba excrement.’
The agent waited. It was useless. There was too much Disney in Charlie’s eyes for him to even think about robbing a bubble gum machine. The agent decided to fill him in and let him go.
‘She was planning on blowing up every pair of fake eyes in every mannequin at that show tonight.’
Charlie left New York the next day. He spent the entire bus ride listening to an old man with dentures prate about life.
‘You know what true love is?’
This. Charlie did not want to hear.
‘Finding someone just as weird as you are and going with it. Love is mutual weirdness. Now isn’t that dandy?’
Something about that old man’s physically fake smile in an attempt to conceptually express joy saddled well the living metaphor.
Charleston returned home and moved in with his mother who wanted to turn her childhood ambition into a reality.
‘A doll store, imagine Charlie, you know you could design the clothes.’
So Charlie and his mother sold the farm and moved closer to my town. They wanted to buy an old Colonial house to give the shop skirted flavor, but the realtors decided flattening all the Colonial houses to put in an outlet mall was more appropriate in these times.
When the county board voted their first proposal down, the realtors simply fed the Democratic Party candidates cash and suggested they run on the platform of criticizing historical preservation laws of southern homes that likely held slaves as racist as an attempt to prevent black people from getting retail jobs. Needless to say, the county board was shuffled come the next election and a year later Charlie and his mother opened up their doll store in an outlet mall next to a clothes chain store owned by white people that sipped on highballs in Curacao while black sales associates did all the work.
A few months later, Charlie’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. She kept it hidden for Charlie’s sake as long as she could until that battery acid disease chewed up her memory and she could barely keep track of the key to open and close the shop.
‘You’ll have to take over Charlie.’ She told him one night and confessed everything. Charlie cried because she was the only person in the world who acknowledged him as a person when it came down to it. Besides Sully of course.
‘Don’t worry Charlie. I wrote you some poems.’ She noted as she fumbled for a fold of yellow paper in her blouse pocket and handed it to Charlie. ‘They’re not much good, but I like to think words fossilize our thoughts. You know language is the closest you and I can ever get to one another.’
The next day her doctor and the state forced her to relocate to an assisted living home where they promised she’d be taken care of. One night when Charlie came to visit, her own son had become a complete stranger.
‘Who are you!? Leave! Leave!’
The doctor told Charlie in a matter-of-fact tone that he was no one to her anymore. He suggested that Charlie never visit her again.
‘She’s my mother.’
‘Sure, she’s your mother, but Charlie, you’re only her son in physical actuality, and without memory, what can physical actuality mean?’
Charlie visited anyway. He damned the doctor and told him she didn’t need memory. She knew him, deep down she knew him. Love couldn’t be crippled by anything. He would read her the poems she wrote and every now and then he swore he could see her pupils blossom like ghost orchids.
Mamma’s Poems #1
“Words- man playing craps against old Grim with loaded dice. Poetry- man unsheathes a chisel. Sketches a smiley face on the deuce side.”
Could we go to the dead ocean
And stick our feet in its skin like needles?
If we’re lucky we can see where the sun used to rise!
And if it’s all real-
I might even feel you for the first time
Like I did when there was love.
Mamma’s Poems #2
How many bombs does it take
‘I know you’re there Ma.’
‘Ma? Who are you!? Leave! Leave!’
It wasn’t long before she died. Only Charlie, Mrs. McPeak, and the priest were at the funeral. After she was six feet under, the priest wiped the death and dirt off his hands and took Charlie out for a coffee, courtesy of me.
The priest had lost his faith but he was too old to find any other job. He asked Charlie if he believed.
‘Watching your mother grow old physically is one thing. Watching your mother forget she ever lived while she’s still alive is another.’
Mrs. McPeak took Charleston out to dinner afterward. She was withered now and could no longer knit because of her arthritis. Although Charlie had failed her expectations, her sorrow for herself made room for his shortcoming. She had divorced Mr. McPeak for cash and a quick retirement into becoming a no one with no worries and only another few years of facing the tall order of endless regrets.
‘I’m moving to Key West, Charlie.’
‘I’m happy for you Mrs. McPeak.’
‘Oh, call me Betty. You’re almost twenty-five now. You make me feel old.’ She noted before dabbing her lips with a cloth napkin. She eyed the caked lipstick that left a backward Chardonnay frown on the napkin.
‘Old. You?’ Charlie spit hunks of sirloin onto the cheddar-colored table. ‘Never.’
Betty laughed as loud as a whale heart beat. Humans tend to laugh the loudest when they’re afraid.
‘You should come with me to Key West.’
‘The doll store?’
‘The doll store.’
‘It’ll get you nowhere, Charlie. Close it.’
‘I know. One day I might.’
Charlie never closed the doll store. If he kept his mother’s dream alive, he kept her alive. Every night he’d shut the empty cash register, shove the late bills under the counter mat, lock up, and stop by me. He’d always order something with cinnamon. It was his mother’s favorite smell.
“Vanilla cinnamon hot chocolate.” Sully hands Charlie his mug and grins. “A living metaphor.”
© 2011 HighBrowCulture
Added on February 24, 2011
Last Updated on June 3, 2011
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